Fourth Sunday of Advent—23 December AD 2007
Modernist Revision of the Christmas Story
O come all ye faithful to ... um ... ah ... Nazareth?
Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and English
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dominica Quarta Adventus
The Gospel this morning contains an important hint as to
how we might answer those who dismiss the Catholic Faith as being nothing more
than a myth or a pious legend
Many people today, and particularly those who are
Modernists in the sense of that word given by Saint Pius X, try to
discredit the Scriptures by claiming that they are not historical—they often
mislead people, who think of history only in modern terms, forgetting that
things were different two, three, or four thousand years ago.
The fact that we cannot put a precise date on the birth of Christ, or even on
His death, makes many modern people skeptical of the writings about Him.
Today we are fanatical record keepers. Americans
assume that every one of us born in this country can be documented with a birth
certificate, school transcripts, military service records, employment records,
medical records, and, ultimately, death certificates. We keep appointment
calendars and diaries, we note times down to the day, hour, and minute.
Our e-mail is timed, literally, down to the second—when transmitted and again
when received—with mention of the time zone so there can be no ambiguity.
The ancient world knew no such precision. The order
of events might or might not be important—if the ancient writer felt that what
happened was more important than when it happened, he
might ignore chronological order, at least some of the time. Last Sunday I
mentioned writing a history paper that was not in chronological order—probably
my writing belonged more to the ancient world than to the present—I was more
concerned with the concepts than with a list of dates.
The ancient Romans and Jews had calendars, but they were
used mostly for religious and civic purposes, determining the dates for
observances that related to the phase of the moon, or the solstices or the
equinox. A few business transactions also made use of the calendar.
But very few writings and documents were issued and dated in the sense that we
use that term. For most purposes it was sufficient to make note of the
name of the ruling king or religious leader. The prophet Amos, for
example, in beginning his book, “dates” it by naming Ozias as the king of
Juda, Jeroboam as the king of Israel, and mentioning that the events he narrates
took place “two years before the earthquake.”
Identifying which earthquake is a bit tough for us today,
but that doesn’t make Amos’ writing any less historical. He was just
writing as other historical writers did in his day.
That Jesus was born some time during the reign of Cæsar
Augustus, and started His public life some time when Tiberias was the Cæsar,
and Annas and Caiphas were the high priests—that the evangelists didn’t have
a specific date or time; that no birth certificate or social security number was
issued—does not make the life of Jesus any less of an historical
reality. (No DNA test either!) I would ask you to keep this in mind
the next time you hear someone dismissing the Scriptures as “un-historical.”
The truths of our Faith are under attack by the paganism of
the modern world, for Christianity is a nagging reminder to them about how men
and women are intended by God to live. On the one hand, it is important
that we know our Faith very well—that we are familiar with the Catechism, the
Bible, and the teachings of the Church. On the other hand, it is also
important to understand how the enemies of our Faith seek to undermine it.
In the December and January Parish Bulletins I have written briefly
about the contents of the Bible, how they were determined, how they are
interpreted, and how Agnostics seek to discredit its central character, our Lord
Jesus Christ—trying to reduce Him to a mortal man and a myth, instead of the
Son of God made man. I hope that you will read what I have written.
A few centuries ago, Martin Luther and other Protestants
had rejected the authority of the Church, insisting that the Bible was to be the
sole rule of faith. They failed to recognize that the Bible was the
Church’s book, with its contents determined by Christ and His Apostles and
entrusted to the keeping of the Catholic Church. As I mentioned in the
December Parish Bulletin, the Protestants did away with several Old
Testament books with which they disagreed—Luther even wanted to get rid of a
few from the New Testament.
But, by and large, Protestants retained the Catholic Church’s canon of
scripture, insisting that, it was somehow, “self evidently” the word of
God—without any need for the authority of the Church to say so.
Authority was taken away from Christ’s Church, and somehow invested in the
books of the Bible themselves.
That worked okay for a century or two, and even works to
some extent today. But it wasn’t long before Protestant intellectuals,
often university professors in schools that were becoming more and more
Modernist, began to give serious thought to the question of books having
authority in themselves. At first, they questioned the authorship of each
book. If, through various combinations of archeology, history, and
literary criticism they could establish that a book was really written by Moses,
or Solomon, or Saint Matthew, or Saint Paul, they felt that might give it the
authority they sought.
Unfortunately, the honest scholarship of these men (mostly
Protestants, but Catholics eventually joined in) became contaminated with
“Rationalism,” the philosophy that eventually developed into Modernism.
The Rationalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries adopted the idea
that only material things are real; that supernatural things like miracles
just do not happen; and that religion is nothing more than the developed
(and developing) sentiment of believers. Ultimately, the Rationalist lost
even his Protestant faith, became an agnostic, and set about “demonstrating”
that the Bible was mostly pious myths that had developed around the merely human
man called Jesus of Nazareth.
Around the turn of the nineteenth century into the
twentieth, in November of 1893, Pope Leo XIII responded to this in his
encyclical Provindentissimus Deus, encouraging Catholic scholars to
become experts in the various disciplines of biblical study—Hebrew, Aramaic,
Greek, Jewish culture, history, archeology, and so forth—in order to properly
refute the so-called “higher critics,” who claimed that the Scriptures were
little more than an elaborate myth.
In 1902, Pope Leo established the Pontifical Biblical Commission, a standing
part of the Roman Curia to provide general oversight to Catholic Scripture
studies. Pope Saint Pius X incorporated the Biblical Commission into his
fight against Modernism by specific mention in 1907.
These Popes did great work, but the defense of the Faith is
far from over. For example, at Christmas time we can expect the TV
networks to present specials on how the Gospels disagree as to the infancy of
Christ. They don’t really, but vast numbers of people will accept
anything they hear on TV, even if the supposed “evidence” makes no
sense—they don’t think about the evidence, they just accept it because it is
But in reality, that Saint Matthew records the persecution
by King Herod, while Saint Luke records the religious events in the Temple, and
not vice-versa—is purely a matter of emphasis. (You had to make your own
writing paper in those days; from papyrus reeds.) Those who read
“snippets” of either Gospel—just a verse here and just a verse
there—even try to claim that Matthew and Luke have Jesus being born in two
I understand that the Vatican has gotten into
the act this year as well. This sounded like a hoax to me, but it is being
reported all over, in the Catholic press and well as the secular press.
The Nativity scene in front of Saint Peter’s will not be set at Bethlehem this
year. but rather at Nazareth! Claiming to follow Saint Matthew’s Gospel,
they have assembled a Nativity scene, not in Bethlehem, but in Saint Joseph’s
workshop in Nazareth!! By reading the last verse of Matthew’s first
chapter and ignoring the first verse of the next chapter, they claim Jesus was
born in Nazareth—in spite of Matthew’s detailed account of what took place
in Bethlehem and nearby Jerusalem. They have even re‑located the
Three Wise Men, whom Matthew also places unequivocally in Jerusalem and
Bethlehem, seventy miles away to the carpenter shop in Nazareth. The media
claim to have been told by Vatican officials that:
"It was time for a change and a return to St Matthew's
gospel". The traditional depiction of Jesus in a manger comes from St
Luke's gospel, which said there was "no room at the inn". But it is
Matthew's gospel which forms the basis for the Angelus prayer, and the view of
Jesus in a carpenter's workshop matches the Franciscan tradition.”
This nonsense, of course, is crazy, and I would be very
happy to learn that this was all a hoax, or that Pope Benedict has fired a few
of his perpetrators, but I am not holding my breath.
Ultimately, it is for us Catholics to defend the Catholic
Faith. So again, I urge you to make use of the vast resources at hand to
study and know your Faith to the best of your ability. Learn also how the
enemies of the Faith argue against it. It is our responsibility as
baptized and confirmed Christians. Our Lord was born into this world
roughly two thousand years ago (give or take a “tetrarch” or a
“procurator” or two)—our Lord was born into this world because this world
can not get along without Him. This world must know Him correctly in order
to love Him, serve Him, and be happy with Him in the next world.